Parent Talk: Split/Second is rated E10+ for ages ten and up. There’s no real violence to speak of; the ten and up rating is likely due to the potential for intense destruction and dangerous driving taking place. There’s no blood, no people to run over — you can’t even see the drivers. While the content isn’t offensive, I warn younger gamers about the possibly overwhelming difficulty. The game becomes increasingly challenging.
Split/Second is comparable to Burnout in the way the game looks and plays. It employs a stable of fictional cars with arcade-style driving mechanics that focus on earning power via drafting, jumping, and drifting — but the similarities end there. You participate in the world’s most watched [and probably most expensive] reality television show ever. Each racing session is an episode, and all the tracks are meticulously engineered sets. Executing certain maneuvers will earn you power, which in turn can be used to trigger Power Plays on the track. PPs can disrupt and even crash your opponents.
Similar to Pure’s trick system, racers must balance quick driving with earning power and timing Power Plays to thwart opponents, though not yourself. Every track features dozens of Power Plays. Some can be triggered multiple times while others allow only a single use. How and when you use them can pave the way to gaining an edge. After all, it’s all about coming in first.
Split/Second does well in throwing out something new to racing fans. Stiff competition exists for the genre, so a unique hook is vital to keep fans interested. Split/Second is very inventive compared to most, so gamers who want more than just pure driving/tuning/upgrading can appreciate the game. Many of the Power Plays are intense and exciting, as some of the game’s best moments are wiping out multiple foes in one fell swoop or dodging an incoming obstacle at the last second. Some are so over-the-top that they change the layout of the track during a race.
+ Race variety. There’s much more to Split/Second than regular races. Extra game types are included that are anything but typical. Detonator has you try to best a target time [like normal time attack events], but the twist is the necessity to avoid Power Plays that are automatically triggered. There are other modes where you earn points by overtaking huge semis that dump explosive barrels, or racing around a track while dodging missile attacks from a helicopter. These are definitely scenarios you won’t see in the next Forza, but would make for some great late-night TV.
+ Excellent visuals. Split/Second runs smoothly at a fast pace and environments are excellently detailed with nice lighting effects like sparks and enough explosions to make Michael Bay proud. Despite everything happening on-screen, the game holds to a steady frame rate, even with races including seven rivals and massive route-changing Power Plays.
– Lack of content. Despite satisfying race variety, the game lacks the genre’s usual expected content. There is just a handful of locations, though each has several layouts. Many developers do this to avoid designing a high number of assets, but it still feels like you’re racing the same track. Completing all the episodes doesn’t take long either if first place isn’t important to you each time. The single player aspects can be finished in around ten hours or less. Getting all first place finishes requires more time, in addition to completing all the achievements/trophies (which took me roughly 20 hours). The online mode alleviates this a bit, but you can’t pick the tracks between races. Also online you can easily be left at a disadvantage since your vehicles available correspond to your progress in the single player mode.
– Strange driving physics. I’ve compared Split/Second to Burnout. You’d probably agree, but sadly the cars don’t drive as well as they do in the latter. There are weird quirks, like losing too much speed when drifting, making it a tough choice whether to try to build power by drifting or keeping it clean. If an AI car is on your tail (and they usually are), a simple drift can drop you a couple places. It’s also difficult to maintain long drifts without very delicate throttle control. This can send you crashing into the track barriers too often. Another oddity is how using the analog stick to make gradual corners causes you to lose speed, but just bumping it in the desired direction (simulating a digital pad) prevents this.
Frustration. Rubber-band or not, the AI comes off as having an unfair advantage. It seems impossible to ever build a comfortable lead. Trying to earn every gold becomes a game of repetition, trying a race over and over hoping for that elusive checkered flag. Split/Second sometimes seems more luck than skill-driven.
Split/Second is a great effort by Disney. It’s an interesting and unique look at your typical racing game, but has plenty of room to grow. With some more content, balanced AI, and tweaks to the driving mechanics, it could have truly been great. Until then, Buy It Cheap!